Archive | Soccer

And a Final Word on USA-Algeria:

Here’s the goal, if, like me, you want to watch it over (and over) again …

In reference to some of the comments on my earlier posting about the game , I’ll just say this: If you come to soccer with the mindset that the goal of sports is to create a playing field in which all elements of randomness have been removed — soccer ain’t really for you. Yes, the linesman made a terrible call to deprive the US of a goal. Yes, it sucked, and was unfair, and I and every other soccer fan wish that the refs didn’t make so many mistakes. But they do, just like the players do, and for the same reason: they are human beings. It’s just part of the game. It’s cruel, but you get over it — it took the players about 1.35 seconds to get over it, because they have to get their heads right back into the game. Fans, too. To let it sour a great moment like Donovan’s goal is really too bad. There is, as he put it over at Sam’s Posts, “really nothing in sports comparable to that last-gasp goal in soccer. After playing for so long, doing everything except scoring, the swing in emotions is indescribable. And for it to happen to the US team, in a decisive World Cup game! Even if they didn’t play the best soccer, team USA treated us to the two most dramatic examples of soccer matches in the last two games: a two-goal comeback, and a last-minute game-winner. We’re all lucky to have witnessed it.”

[And not to get ahead of ourselves or anything, but don’t look now: the US plays Ghana in the Round of 16, and then, if it wins, the winner of Uruguay-S. Korea. Tough [...]

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If You Haven’t Watched the US-Algeria Match Yet . . .

. . . stop reading immediately, go to, and watch. Do not read further – you’ll thank me later.

If you watched it . . . that was not only the greatest moment in US soccer history (without question), but I’m thinking it may well have been the greatest moment in US sports history (or in the top 2 or 3 — “Miracle on Ice”? What else is even close?). I do NOT mean the greatest moment in the history of sports in the US — there are way too many candidates on that list. But I do mean possibly the greatest moment in the history of “US sports” — sports in which “the US” was a participant. Even those of you who don’t care much for the game of soccer have to agree – that was an extraordinary contest and extraordinary drama. I don’t know what others are looking for when they watch sports, but if that one didn’t do it for you, you’re . . . not a soccer fan, I guess. [I feel the same way about Wagner operas — if you can listen to a great performance and come away unmoved, then it just means Wagner’s not for you …]. And it’s the first 91 minutes of frustration and anger — another blown call!! missed chances right and left!! bad decision-making!! — that makes it all the more delicious [a lot like Wagner, actually!]

This Cup, for my money, has had decent soccer (I’d give it a “B” so far, overall) and great drama. It’s compelling in the way that March Madness is compelling, but multiplied by maybe 10 million — fundamentally, because “Nigeria” and “Spain” and “France” and “Ghana” and the rest of them are, as ideas and symbols to which people are [...]

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We Wuz Robbed!

We really wuz – er, were. A truly stirring US comeback from a 2-0 deficit in its game against Slovenia was spoiled by an indefensible and inexplicable call by the Malian referee, disallowing what would have been the Americans’ third goal. Replays from every conceivable angle confirmed what most viewers thought at the time — the only possible fouls that occurred were committed by the Slovenians on the Americans, particularly one defendenr who literally wrestled US midfielder Michael Bradley to the ground as the ball was coming into the box. But Bob Bradley, the US coach, had the right attitude after the game:

“Honestly I think that the set piece, most of what took place was that Slovenia players were holding our players. One player had his arms around Michael (Bradley), Michael was trying to break loose and a foul was called. I don’t know if that’s accurate. But that’s one version. There are moments when you are frustrated because you feel that situations have not been handled 100 percent correctly or fairly. But that’s how the game works sometimes. You move on.”

And speaking of moving on . . . the good news on the day for the US was that England’s dispiriting performance in its 0-0 draw with a surprisingly confident and skilled Algerian team means that the US has its fate in its hands, and is a pretty good bet to progress to the second round. The permutations are complicated but the bottom line is that the US goes through if it can beat the Algerians next week, regardless of what happens in the other game. Even if its a tie, we’d get through if (a) Slovenia beats England (which, from the looks of things so far, is eminently possible), or (b) England and Slovenia tie and [...]

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Soccer Rules:

Richard Epstein — whom I believe, if memory serves me, is quite persuasive when it comes to articulating the reasons why the common law has evolved towards greater and greater efficiency over time — is apparently unwilling to extend that line of reasoning to the rules of soccer. He’s got some suggestions for changing the rules to make “transform a flawed game.” It’s an interesting and little-remarked-upon phenomena surrounding the spread of soccerphilia in the U.S.; Americans, I have found, are remarkably free with their suggestions, once they get a taste of the beautiful game, for measures that should be taken to make it better. Every four years, I hear from friends how if they only made the goal bigger, or got rid of the offside rule, well, then it would really be fun to watch . . .

I don’t mean to be unfair to Prof. Epstein — perhaps his suggestions (two points for a goal from the run of play, 1 for a penalty kick goal; and a hockey-like system for penalties to replace the red card/yellow card scheme) come from long study and deep understanding of the game. But I suspect not. The proposals would quite fundamentally alter a game that — lest we forget — two or three billion people are currently in love with. Hmm. It takes a lot of confidence — or chutzpah — to come in and say: I have figured out a way to make this better.

[Thanks to ajr13 for the pointer] [...]

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My Only World Cup Post – Stolen from Chris Borgen at Opinio Juris …

… and dedicated to Tod Lindberg and his daughter Abbey.  Tod is editor of Hoover’s Policy Review and a foreign affairs guru and both Lindbergs are soccer fanatics.  I, on the other hand, can only say – further to the very interesting discussion from Ilya, et al. – that I know as little about soccer as about American sports.  I am hazy on how most of them are scored, to start with.  Leaving my inadequacies aside, however, Chris at OJ has a fascinating post on the intersection of soccer and international law, specifically the recognition of which places count as countries to be able to send teams, and what those who don’t count are doing instead.

Padania’s victory [over Kurdistan] was not in the football (American translation: “soccer”) World Cup being played in South Africa but in the one that was just played in Gozo. You know, the Viva World Cup, the tournament among the unrecognized states of the world.

The World Cup being played in South Africa is sponsored by FIFA, the Federation Internationale de Football Association, the governing body of international soccer that is an association of the national football leagues from around the world. But, as author Steve Menary put it, there are “the lands that FIFA forgot,” such as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Gozo, Occitania,Somaliland, and, of course, three-time world (?) champions Padania. (No Transnistria, but Sealand is an Associate Member.) The Viva World Cup is organized by the NF-Board (see also wiki), which may have originally stood for “Non-FIFA Board” but is now referred to as the “New Federation Board.”

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Debating the Advantages of US Professional Sports Over International Soccer

In a recent post, I wrote that US pro sports have an important unappreciated advantage over international soccer. Unlike the latter, they are not organized in ways that fuel ethnic violence and provide prestige for oppressive regimes. Co-blogger David Post seems to concede my central point, but defends soccer anyway:

I think Ilya’s on to something here. What’s most interesting, to me, is that he describes this as an “advantage” of US sports. Another way to say what he’s saying: people around the world care about soccer in a way that is far deeper than the way most US fans care about their sports. It touches a much, much deeper chord, and, as a result, is much more bound up with all those things people care deeply about — religion, and politics, and honor, and the rest of it. I’ve said it before: soccer’s like life, and people care about it the way they care about their lives….. But to those of us who love soccer — all 2.75 billion or so of us — that’s not a bug, that’s a feature. Do US sports have an “advantage” because they lack this quality?? Depends how you measure these things. Ilya (like Jonathan Adler) has an unspoken theory of sport standing behind his comments: sports should take us away from the real world, it should provide us a respite from the ethnic tensions and religious divisions and political problems of the real world. I can see it — I just don’t share it. Sure, “promoting ethnic violence” and “providing propaganda fodder for repressive and corrupt governments” are bad things. But the way I see it, it’s a lot like love — many, many terrible things have happened over the centuries because of love, but “on balance” we’re better off

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World Cup, Round 1:

First, a word about co-blogger Ilya Somin’s interesting post “An Underappreciated Advantage of American Professional Sports Over International Soccer”“. Ilya describes an “important advantage of US pro sports over international soccer: soccer often promotes nationalist and ethnic violence and provides propaganda fodder for repressive or corrupt governments, while US pro sports (with extremely rare exceptions) do not.”

“European and Latin American soccer rivalries are commonly linked to nationalistic and ethnic antagonisms . . . Many European and especially Latin American soccer teams are also closely associated with governments. This often allows repressive and corrupt regimes to obtain propaganda benefits from the teams’ victories. . . . In the United States, by contrast, pro sports rivalries are based on geographic divisions that have little or no connection to deeper social antagonisms over race, religion, or political ideology. . . . US pro sports leagues are sometimes criticized for failing to engage the deeper loyalties of fans as much as soccer does in other countries. On balance, it’s actually a good thing that they don’t.”

I think Ilya’s on to something here. What’s most interesting, to me, is that he describes this as an “advantage” of US sports. Another way to say what he’s saying: people around the world care about soccer in a way that is far deeper than the way most US fans care about their sports. It touches a much, much deeper chord, and, as a result, is much more bound up with all those things people care deeply about — religion, and politics, and honor, and the rest of it. I’ve said it before: soccer’s like life, and people care about it the way they care about their lives. Why that is so is a very interesting question — I believe it is inextricably tied in [...]

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An Underappreciated Advantage of American Professional Sports Over International Soccer

This month, as two years ago, we have an interesting coincidence of a Celtics-Lakers NBA finals and a major international soccer tournament. In 2008, I wrote a post on the subject that I think is still relevant today:

The conjunction of the Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals and the European Soccer Championship [this year, the World Cup] led me to reflect on two important advantage of US pro sports over international soccer: soccer often promotes nationalist and ethnic violence and provides propaganda fodder for repressive or corrupt governments, while US pro sports (with extremely rare exceptions) do not.

European and Latin American soccer rivalries are commonly linked to nationalistic and ethnic antagonisms (e.g. – England vs. Germany, England vs. Ireland, Germany vs. Poland, etc.). Even the fan bases of teams in internal national soccer leagues often break down along ethnic lines. This conjunction of sports rivalries and nationalistic/ethnic rivalries often leads to violence. The most notorious example is the 1969 “Soccer War” between El Salvador and Honduras – a conflict which might have been funny except for the fact that 2000 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced from their homes. And there are many lesser cases of riots and other violence resulting from soccer games.

Many European and especially Latin American soccer teams are also closely associated with governments. This often allows repressive and corrupt regimes to obtain propaganda benefits from the teams’ victories. For example, the repressive Brazilian and Argentinian military governments of the 1970s increased their public support as a result of their national teams’ World Cup victories in 1970 and 1978. In Europe, Mussolini, Franco, and the communist government of the Soviet Union derived similar benefits from their teams’ successes. On a lesser scale, incompetent or corrupt local governments in Europe sometimes benefit from the victories of

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But First, Our National Anthem:

I am, I admit, a total national anthem junkie, and one of the things I love about the World Cup is the way the anthems are featured. The Olympic award ceremony has a certain charm, with the flag being raised while the anthem of the winner is played. But for me, the Cup has more drama, with the teams lined up, heads high, each player with his hands on the shoulders of a youth player standing in front of him, the anthem playing and the ‘locals’ in the crowd (and, very often, the players) singing at top voice. It’s one thing that I have found most appealing at the international soccer games I’ve gone to (in Italy, Holland, and Israel), the way that the crowds get so passionate during the initial singing of the anthem. It’s something we Americans hardly ever do — we have a particularly difficult anthem to sing (though there have, to be sure, been some notably spectacular performances, see, e.g.,, and we don’t have quite the tradition of public singing that others do. I tell you, sitting in the midst of 50,000 or so Italians all belting out their anthem molto fortissimo is a helluva way to start a soccer game. [I expect some good noise from the US fans at tomorrow’s game — apparently more US fans have bought tickets to the Cup this year than from any other country, and I’m hoping for a nice rousing rendition of the Stars and Stripes before they take the field against England]. [...]

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World Cup 2010:

Bowing to incessant popular demand, here’s the latest in my quadrennial guide to everything you need to know about the upcoming World Cup tournament. (OK, not really everything, but at least a bunch of interesting stuff). Even those of you who are, shall we say, less than captivated by the game itself should take the opportunity to get in the flow of things over the next month or so; there really is something pretty special about any World Cup, to taking part in something to which pretty much everyone in the world is paying attention, a chance to experience, if only vicariously, the passions that people bring to the sport and to their national teams. We Americans rarely (if ever) really experience the sort of national frenzy that will be the norm over the next month or so, when every day, starting on Friday, ordinary life in at least four countries (whoever’s teams are playings) comes to a complete standstill for 90 minutes or so; our national teams just don’t capture our collective imagination, even in sports we’re pretty crazy about (baseball, basketball), let alone in a sport we’re just coming (though we are coming) to care about. [Think US-Canada Olympic hockey final, happening twice a day – and even that doesn’t really begin to capture it] What to look for from amidst this abundance of riches? [...]

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How Jonathan Adler Gets It Wrong, and Soccer Gets It Right:

[As VC’s resident soccerphile, I am of course busily preparing myself for the World’s Greatest (By Far) Sporting Event beginning next week in South Africa. I’ll be posting regular reports on the games, all of which (along with this post) come with the following request: Those of you who seem unable to elevate your discourse or analysis above the level of “Soccer Sucks!!!” are gently requested to avoid anything and everything I write, if only for the sake of your blood pressure]

Co-blogger Jonathan Adler has suggested that baseball needs to increase its use of instant replay to correct blown calls (such as the one last night that deprived Armando Galarraga of his perfect game) to become more like hockey (which allows a wide range of replay review during stoppages in play). Here’s the sentence that caught my eye:

“The outcome of the game should turn on the performance of the players, not the performance of the referees.”

That may seem obvious, to some. But to my eye it is not obvious at all — and indeed soccer is the exception that disproves the rule.

First of all, how do we know what the outcome of a game “should” turn on? If Adler is simply saying: “I only like games in which the outcome turns entirely and exclusively on the performance of the players, and not the performance of the referees,” that’s fair enough. But he’s making a much more general, normative point about sports and games, and what they’re about, and I think he’s on thin ice.

Let’s take a look at some facts:

1. The outcome of soccer games turns on both the performance of the players and the performance of the referees. Even a casual soccer fan understands this point. Not only does soccer have no replays, [...]

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Soccerphiles & Soccerphobes, Lay Down Your Arms!

I know that the world (at least the VC world) is sharply divided into opposing camps on all matters soccer-related, but we should put aside our differences and gather together at our favorite watering-holes tomorrow (Wednesday — 230 PM EDT, rebroadcast at 8 PM EDT on Fox Soccer Channel) for a match that should be a real beauty (and a chance for the ‘phobes to see what it is that gets real soccer fans so passionate about the game). Arsenal FC v. FCB Barcelona, quarter-finals of the European Champions League.

The ECL is far and away the most prestigious (and the best, and the most-watched) club soccer tournament of all (eclipsed only by the battle of the national teams in the World Cup). It’s a season-long tournament, involving the teams that finished at the top of their respective national leagues the previous year (so, e.g., it starts out with the top four teams from the English Premier League in 2008-09 [Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool], the top three from Spain [Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla], France, Germany, etc.) leading up to a one-match Final at the end of May (this year in Madrid) that is always the most-watched soccer match of the year, world-wide. The level of play is generally astonishingly high in all matches – but the Arsenal-Barcelona pairing in this year’s quarter-finals should be particularly delicious. By common consensus, of all the thousands upon thousands of professional soccer teams out there on this earth, these are the two that play the most beautiful soccer of all. Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder — but most neutral fans, whomever they may be rooting for in the competition, would have to agree that no teams can match these two in sheer elegance and grace when they’re on [...]

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True Genius:

Every once in a while in sports, someone performs at such an incredibly high level that s/he simply elevates him/herself far, far above the crowd of even the most talented competitors — Gretzky at his peak, Babe Ruth, Tiger Woods. At the moment (for those of you who can tear yourself away from March Madness), it’s Lionel Messi, the Argentine forward who plays his club soccer for the best club in the world, FC Barcelona. Messi, all of 22 years old, has had a week that has no parallel in recent soccer history — eight goals in his last three games. [For those of you who don’t follow soccer closely, you should know that eight goals is a pretty decent season for soccer players at the highest level, and a “strike rate” of one goal every two games is considered world-class). It’s not like he’s been playing against second-rate opposition, either — three goals against Valencia, the third place team in Spain, two goals in the European Champions League against Stuttgart, three goals today against Real Zaragoza in La Liga. And every goal has been a true beauty, a real masterpiece of skill and creativity — the Valencia goals are here, and the Stuttgart goals are here. Worth a look — they’re things of beauty. If we’re all lucky, Diego Maradona, coach of the Argentina national team who’s making something of a mess out of, potentially, one of the great teams in the world, will figure out how to get Messi involved in the offense at the world cup, and we can all enjoy his magic on the biggest stage of all. [...]

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Politics and Poker — er, I mean, Soccer

Nate Silver — the fellow who built into one of the more successful and sophisticated predictive electoral sites on the Web, and who was remarkably prescient in his electoral vote predictions in the 2008 Presidential election — has now cast his net over more profound and important prey: the world of international soccer. As soccer fans are well aware, the “official” rankings of the world’s national teams, prepared by FIFA, are, and have always been, absurd — widely discounted and often derided by serious fans everywhere. [A few years back, for example, the US team was ranked fourth (!!) in the world – and the current FIFA rankings have such oddities as Croatia at #8, USA at #11, and Switzerland at #13). Working with, Silver has devised the “Soccer Power Index” as a new predictive tool (just ahead, of course, of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa). Soccer’s a tough game to handicap in the best of circumstances, and I haven’t had much of a chance to study Silver’s lengthy explanations of his new algorithms – but Silver’s track record is too good to ignore, and if I were a betting man I’d certainly want to take a good long look at what he’s come up with. [...]

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